The Played by NCG South West Tour saw editor Dan Murphy and publisher Tom Irwin take in 16 courses in eight days, covering Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. All the courses are on the shortlist for our Played by NCG England’s Top 100 Courses 2018 ranking feature.
It involved a degree of travelling. Quite a large degree actually.
There is often a good reason why a certain course had not been incorporated on to a previous, more sensible, trip. Namely that it is an outlier. Not so much geographically as much as not having a natural partner to pair it with.
On this Played by NCG tour, Kington, in Herefordshire, and Isle Of Purbeck, in Dorset, were both good examples.
It took them weeks to come up with the itinerary and even now, after they’ve escaped the vortex of the golf trip, they still scratch their heads looking at it. But it’s over now. They did it. Here’s their diary from the mammoth trip…
Played by NCG: South West Tour, Day 3
Wake up in: Marginally nearer Gloucester than Cheltenham
Miles travelled: 192
Round 1: 11.03am – Bowood, Wiltshire
Round 2: 4.30pm – Burnham & Berrow, Somerset
Sleep: Braunton, Devon
It was high time to move away from the, err, high ground and base ourselves somewhere flatter. The middle of Wiltshire, between Swindon and Chippenham, was our destination, specifically the Bowood estate, which comprises an attractive hotel as well as an enormous Dave Thomas-designed parkland which dates back to the 1980s.
On a bright Sunday morning, this is a popular spot, so much so that our first challenge was finding a car parking space. Thankfully, a member called Rod was on hand to warn us that the reserved space we were occupying was the preferred spot for Lord Shelburne, whose predecessors have owned the estate since the middle of the 18th century.
We respectfully retreated to a safe distance and eventually negotiated our way to a first hole that represented well over 10 per cent of Kington’s total yardage.
It really was quite a shock to the senses to be playing this vast, thriving parkland after the past couple of days. Only one of the four courses we had played to date has got more than a handful of sand bunkers yet at Bowood almost every last green is protected by huge hazards, often with only the top of the flag visible beyond.
There were also other golfers to interact with on our way round, include a couple of ladies who waved us through, mainly because it turns out one of them was a fellow Leodensian.
Water is also a feature at Bowood, as you can see from the 13th green, above. This demanding par 5 is a good example of what you face here – it’s a course that demands to be respected. And if you don’t, you will find yourself running up a number on hole after hole.
What strikes you here is the sheer scale of the place – it would be a great tournament venue and at 7,300 yards off the tips there is plenty of it too. Some of said tips, according to the boys in the pro shop, have rarely if ever been used, even when the Challenge Tour used to come here regularly back in the 1990s. Thomas, it must be said, successfully future-proofed this course.
The other difference was us was readjusting to the level of precision you need to play a course like this halfway competently. While the Cleeves and Painswicks of this world are all about feel and imagination, Bowood is the kind of place where you need to consult your yardage book.
It’s another reminder of the sheer variety that English golf has to offer.
And talking of which, after another hour in the car, we were presented with sights like this at Somerset links Burnham & Berrow, where Sean Arble made his second appearance of the trip, having joined us at Cleeve Hill.
Our lucky panellist is a member here, and simply couldn’t resist a sunlit evening on the links.
Nor could we – it was sensational. After a quick sandwich and coffee, and having paid our respects to Karen, Burnham’s managing secretary, and Chris, the chairman of greens, we were on our way.
The start to this course is simply irresistible. I reckon the first is one of the great links openers. In fact, I’m struggling to think of a better one, with due respect to Portstewart. And Doonbeg. And Saunton.
A spine of dunes runs down the length of the course and roughly separates the front nine for the back. Several holes on the former are played on land that was still in the sea as recently as 100 years ago. You can tell – it’s more uniform land and the turf has appreciably more give underfoot.
On the way back home, there is a Royal Cinque Ports feel to the topography, all bumps and lumps, peaks and troughs – as you can see here on the 14th fairway.
This is a course with soul. It’s got personality and no little style. And, as you can see, it also photographs well.
Arguably, the back nine is a little less consistent than the front nine and a touch more memorable. As a package, it’s sublime. And especially if you get it on an evening like we did.
There is so much to take in, including sea views, a church to aim at at various points and some incredible, prime linksland. Many of the above features are on display from the brand-new sixth tee that will shortly open for business.
I will leave you with this effort, which I am particularly proud of. If only I had not hit my second into that hollow you can see to the right of the green. My first putt came back to my feet and three more jabs later I was on way way to the third tee. I was still smiling though.
1. Once more unto the linksland, my friends, and what a flippin’ relief. It is by the sea that golf lives. Only here does the land and the game come together as such natural bedfellows. Stepping on to the first tee at Burnham & Berrow was to fall in love yet again with a lifelong companion, as you remember and cherish the flaws, subtleties and challenges that got you in the first place.
2. Americans are an odd bunch, they don’t seem to like putting. Mr Arble, our some-time companion, has lots good things to say about golf course that you irritatingly didn’t notice yourself. He doesn’t like putting, though, a trend not uncommon among his countrymen, routinely batting the ball away from five feet. Which somewhat misses the point of getting of the ball into the hole.
More from the Played by NCG South West Tour
Day 1: Cleeve Hill and Painswick
Day 2: Ross-on-Wye and Kington
Day 4: Saunton (West) and Saunton (East)
Day 5: Bude & North Cornwall and Royal North Devon
Day 6: Bovey Castle and Thurlestone
Day 7: East Devon and Isle of Purbeck
Day 8: Minchinhampton (Cherington) and Minchinhampton (Avening)
Could the golf ball be rolled back for everyone?